At the Lambert Firm we’ve been representing injured maritime workers in Louisiana and the entire Gulf Coast region in a wide variety of maritime injury cases since the 1970s. We know how dangerous maritime work can get, especially during the winter months when maritime workers are most at risk for injuries caused by hypothermia and other cold stress related physical conditions.
What Is Hypothermia?
What is hypothermia? Basically, hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature. Normal body temperature averages 98.6 degrees. When that temperature falls below 95 degrees, the affected person may begin to experience symptoms of hypothermia.
Two of the biggest causes of hypothermia for maritime workers are exposure to cold weather and immersion in cold water. Body heat is lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. Immersion in cold water is especially dangerous and can lead to unconsciousness or even death in as little as 15 minutes.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Some of the initial symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Mild contraction of the blood vessels
- Upset stomach
- Increased urine production
- Mild confusion
- Numbness in the hands and other extremities
As the body continues to lose heat, these symptoms appear:
- Violent shivering
- Slow and labored movements
- Lack of coordination
- Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.
- Skin becomes pale as surface blood vessels contract further as body focuses on keeping vital organs warm.
When the body’s core temperature fall below a certain level and the body’s metabolic processes begin to shut down, we begin to see the symptoms of severe hypothermia:
- Shivering stops
- Inability to move
- Pulse and respiration decrease
- Difficulty speaking
Symptoms of the final stages of hypothermia include:
- Paradoxical undressing
- Terminal burrowing
- Organ Failure
- Clinical Death
How dangerous is cold water immersion hypothermia?
- In waters with a temperature of 32.5 degrees or less, exhaustion or unconsciousness may occur in less than 15 minutes; death may occur in 15 to 45 minutes.
- In waters with a temperature range of 32.5 to 40 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness may occur in 15 to 30 minutes; death may occur in 30 to 90 minutes.
- In waters with a temperature range of 40 to 50 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness may occur in 30 to 60 minutes; death may occur in 1 to 3 hours.
- In waters with a temperature range of 50 to 60 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness may occur in 1 to 2 hours; death may occur in 1 to 6 hours.
- In waters with a temperature range of 60 to 70 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness may occur in 3 to 12 hours; death may occur in 3 hours or more.
If a person is suffering from cold water immersion hypothermia, the first thing to do is get them out of the water and indoors, if possible, as quickly as possible. Remove their wet clothes and dry them off. Call for emergency medical attention.
Restore warmth slowly, starting with the torso – warming the extremities first could cause shock. After putting on dry clothes, wrap the person in blankets to warm them up. If conscious, give them warm fluids (nothing containing caffeine or alcohol) to drink. If you use hot water bottles or chemical hot packs, don’t apply them directly to the body, wrap them in cloth to protect the skin. DON’T immerse them in warm water; this could result in a heart arrhythmia.
Closely monitor the victim’s breathing. If the person is not breathing, begin administering CPR immediately.
In moderate to severe cases of hypothermia, the victim will require emergency medical treatment as soon as possible
Here are some tips for avoiding and preventing hypothermia:
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.
- Always wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions.
- Always wear a life jacket or other personal flotation device.
- If you fall in the water, get out as quickly as possible.
- While working in extremely cold conditions, take frequent, short breaks in warm dry place to allow the body to warm up.
- Don’t try to swim unless you’re close to safety.
- Huddle together with others in the water.
- Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue.
- Don’t remove your clothing while you’re in the water.
- In order to minimize heat loss, try to keep your body in a heat escape lessening position (HELP) while awaiting assistance, holding your knees to your chest to protect the trunk of your body.
Speak with an Experienced Maritime Attorney
Proper training and equipment are the best ways for maritime workers to avoid hypothermia. When employers and vessel owners fail to take responsibility for the safety of crew members and other workers while on the job, preventable injuries such as hypothermia can be avoided.
If you are a maritime worker who has been injured due to hypothermia or other cold stress related conditions, you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries. Contact the experienced maritime injury attorneys at the Lambert Firm today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case.